A day on the tiles

19th November 2004 at 00:00
Phil Revell checks out a museum make-over

A replica of Covent Garden tube station and a recreation of an old children's ward at London's Middlesex Hospital are among the highlights of the revamped Jackfield Tile Museum in Shropshire's Ironbridge Gorge.

The museum, which has reopened after two years of renovations to the 130-year-old tile works, also boasts a new workshop for school groups.

Two million pounds have been spent to bring the building back into use and a further pound;2m of lottery money is earmarked for improvements.

The tile museum was once the production centre for George and Arthur Maws, makers of encaustic tiles since the 1850s. In the 1880s the business split into two, with Maws moving to a new factory, and Craven Dunnill continuing production in the original building. The tile makers' work can be seen all over the world and the renovations allow the visitor to travel through 300 years of history from simple representative tile designs, through Art Deco to the present.

School groups can have a go at making a tile of their own. Workshops are run by Jennifer Hill, who works for Craven Dunnill Jackfield, the modern day survivor of the original business.

"It's a hands-on activity," she says. "We take them on a tour of the factory to see how the tiles are pressed, then it's into the classroom for tube lining, which takes about one and a half hours."

Tube lining is a little like icing a cake. A line of liquid clay is squeezed on to a tile to create the design. The chosen design can be a tracing from a real tile or children can bring their own designs.

Some schools work on a joint design that can be framed and displayed back at school, but most allow the children to keep the finished tile, which is posted to the school after being fired in the workshop's kilns. "We can chose the design to reflect the age and ability," says Jennifer. "It can take quite a lot of work, but the success factor is very high."

Workshop choices will be extended next year with new practical options, including screen-printing and work with plaster moulds.

The renovation work has allowed visitors to stroll through galleries showing how the tile-makers' art would have looked when decorative tile-work was at its height between the 1850s and the Second World War.

As well as the Covent Garden and Middlesex hospital recreations, there's a replica of the curved tiled bar from a northern public house, and tiles used in people's homes. One display shows a 1930s front room.

The "great rock sandwich" display shows why local mineral deposits made the Gorge an ideal place for the industries that developed, which included the world's first coal-fired ironworks, the Coalport chinaworks and the tileworks.

Jackfield is part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, possibly the best known museum outside London. Ten museum sites await visitors, all of which celebrate the area's role as the cradle of the industrial revolution.

l The tile-making workshops is pound;6 is head, including entrance to the museum. Posting the finished tiles to the school is pound;15 for a group. Contact museum education officer Michael Vanns Tel: 01952 433970 Email: education@ironbridge.org.uk

or Jennifer Hill Tel: 01952 884627 Email: jennifer@cravendunnill-jackfield.co.uk www.ironbridge.org.uk

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